June 18, 2021
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 34 which carries forward the thread of sage advice running through all of our readings
I’m going to state the obvious here: distress is not a pretty thing.
We all have stress in our lives and, guess what, it can be a good thing. Stress is a reaction in us when a situation calls for our response. If such reactions never occurred, we would be living in isolation from our environment or community. We would not grow as persons.
This positive stress can be called “eustress”. Distress, on the other hand, occurs when we cannot respond effectively to our experiences or situation. We become overwhelmed, fearful, or anxious.
Paul, in our first reading, has a lot of opportunity to grow from stress! Maybe too much. It sounds like Paul’s experiences had certainly bordered on “distress”.
So did our psalmist’s experiences. In later verses of the psalm, we get a hint of that. The writer is broken-hearted, crushed in spirit, and under physical threat — just like Paul:
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted,Psalm 34:19-23
saves those whose spirit is crushed.
Many are the troubles of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers us from them all.
God watches over all our bones;
not one of them shall be broken.
Evil will slay the wicked;
those who hate the righteous are condemned.
But the LORD redeems the faithful servant
and none are condemned who take refuge in God.
Jesus has a word for us about dealing with distress:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy,
and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor decay destroys,
nor thieves break in and steal.
So it all depends on what we treasure, on what we allow to become most important in our lives. If wealth, reputation, power, and self-aggrandizement are our treasures, we’re going to live in distress all our lives trying to protect these trophies.
If charity, hope, faith, and merciful justice are our treasures, it doesn’t mean we will never have stress or pain. But we will understand the prayer of Psalm 34:
Glorify the LORD with me,Psalm 34:4-7
let us together extol God’s name.
I sought the LORD who answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
From all their distress God rescues the just.
Look to God that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and was delivered from all distress.
Poetry: Do not be troubled, God, though they say “mine” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Do not be troubled, God, though they say “mine”
of all things that permit it patiently.
they are like wind that lightly strokes the boughs
and says: MY tree.
They hardly see
how all things glow that their hands seize upon,
so that they cannot touch
even the utmost fringe and not be singed.
They will say “mine” as one will sometimes call
the prince his friend in speech with villagers,
this prince being very great — and far away.
They call strange walls “mine,” knowing not at all
who is the master of the house indeed.
They still say “mine,” and claim possession, though
each thing, as they approach, withdraws and closes;
a silly charlatan perhaps thus poses
as owner of the lightning and the sun.
And so they say: my life, my wife, my child,
my dog, well knowing all that they have styled
their own: life, wife, child, dog, remain
shapes foreign and unknown,
that blindly groping they must stumble on.
This truth, be sure, only the great discern,
who long for eyes. The others WILL not learn
that in the beggary of their wandering
they cannot claim a bond with any thing,
but, driven from possessions they have prized,
not by their own belongings recognized,
they can OWN wives no more than they own flowers,
whose life is alien and apart from ours.
God, do not lose your equilibrium.
Even he who loves you and discerns your face
in darkness, when he trembles like a light
you breathe upon, — he cannot own you quite.
And if at night one holds you closely pressed,
locked in his prayers so you cannot stray,
…..you are the guest
…..who comes, but not to stay.
God, who can hold you? To yourself alone
belonging, by no owner’s hand disturbed,
you are like unripened wine that unperturbed
grows ever sweeter and is all alone.
Music: Me and Bobby McGee written and sung by Kris Kristofferson
I don’t know if you will appreciate this song, but I thought I’d give it a try.
I have always identified today’s Gospel with a verse in the song:
Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.
Nothin’, it ain’t nothin’ honey, if it ain’t free
I have never fully spiritually plumbed that verse, but I love to explore it every time I hear this song.